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Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  1,604 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Since the death of Albert Einstein in 1955 there have been many books and articles written about the man and a number of attempts to "explain" relativity. In this new major work Abraham Pais, himself an eminent physicist who worked alongside Einstein in the post-war years, traces the development of Einstein's entire oeuvre. This is the first book which deal comprehensively ...more
Paperback, 552 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1982)
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Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People seriously interested in the history of science
In this extremely impressive book, Abraham Pais, himself a good physicist who knew Einstein personally, sets out to write a comprehensive biography of the greatest scientist of modern times. The emphasis is very much on the science, and if you want details on who Einstein slept with you are advised to look elsewhere. I think that's absolutely right; most biographies of Lindsay Lohan are, for similar reasons, equally sketchy concerning her opinions on quantum mechanics.

The rest of this review is
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Really illuminating and surprisingly critical on two fronts. One, Pais is critical of Einstein himself and does not write the usual hagiography of the great man, but deals with him as a working scientist who made occasional errors as all humans do. The relativity "revolution" is put in perspective as a continuation of classical physics, by comparison with the true break with the past that was occurring in quantum theory. He is also aware that Einstein's opposition to quantum theory cannot be dis ...more
Simon Mcleish
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Originally published on my blog here in June 1998.

Subtle is the Lord... (the Einstein quote finishes "...but he is not malicious") is an excellent biography of Albert Einstein written by an eminent physicist. A fair knowledge of physics is necessary to read this, but reading a biography of Einstein which doesn't convey the work that he did is much less interesting to those who have such a knowledge.

Pais is not uncritical of Einstein. A major theme of his book is to answer the question of why, af
William Mann
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is probably the BEST of all the Einstein biographies on the market. It is not only a bio of Einstein himself, but also of his science. With a combination of life story and physics Pais weaves a detailed tapestry of the history of the birth of modern Physics. This book is not for the faint of heart, it takes dedication and patience to work through. The result, wether you understand all the math or not, is a deeper understanding of Einstein's dedication to the pursuit of the greatest of mirac ...more
May 19, 2008 marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: physicists interested in einstein's contributions to their field
Non-physicists need not apply.

This book is an intensely thorough scientific biography of Einstein and is likely a great joy to any physicist interested watching the great man work.

However, if you're simply a pop-sci fan passing through the fascinating world of physics, don't stop to gawk here. You won't comprehend a thing. Instead, mosy on over to Walter Isaacson's 'Einstein: His Life and Dreams.'

I may return to this book later, once I've got some relativity and quantum theory under my belt, in
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
“The aspiration of truth is more precious than its assured possession”. Those were Albert Einstein’s words from his autobiographical note written about a month prior he took his last breath. The spirit with which he wrote bears the seed of the pursuit of an unified field theory from which all the attributes of the Nature will pop out. This is an active field of research in theoretical physics of our present time to search for a theory that unifies the quantum and the classical domains. Such were ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hmmm... well I think this book should have been called:
" The SCIENCE SCIENCE SCIENCE of Albert Einstein (with a tiny bit of context about his life)"

This is a book by a physicist, for physicists. (I am in no way a physicist.) To his credit, the author makes clear in the introduction that the purpose of the book is to cover Einstein's work, and he even highlights in the contents the (very few) sections in the book which deal with Einstein's life rather than work.

Despite knowing that, I made an att
F Avery
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a saying from "A Brief History of Time" by Steven Hawking to the effect that "For every equation in the book the readership would be halved...". Clearly that doesn't hold in the limit, because by rough estimate this book has 300 or so equations, implying that even if the original readership with no equations were the entire earth's population of seven billion, as published it would be 7 X 10^9 X 2^(-300). So I could not have read the book, but I did.
I have advanced degrees in mathematics
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Terrifically clear exposition of Einstein's development as a thinker....Not for those intimidated by equations; but from Brownian motion to Einstein-Bose condensate, one comes away with how his supple mind fit things together. Far more respectful of science - and the scientifically interested reader - than any of the other more superficial biographies of Einstein I've read... ...more
Michael McEllin
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This has been on my bookshelf for many years and has been read and reread several times.

OK, you probably need to be a physicist or a mathematician to really understand the technical detail, because this is quite definitely a history of the intellectual development of Einstein rather than a personal biography. For those able to cope with that it is by far the best history of Relativity and Einstein's love-hate relationship with quantum mechanics that is available.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is not just a biography of Einstein but a detailed scientific exposition of his theories from mass energy equivalence to relativity to his thoughts on quantum mechanics. This biography is for physicists and for those who love physics.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
A surprising collection of physical formulas and biographical notes. Interesting but the different subjects do not really bland into a biographical story. For me not a nice read but the very interesting contents compensate a lot.
Otto Lidenbrock
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another great biography by Pais. The fact he knew personally and worked professionally with these scientific giants grants him a much more broader landscape with which to separate the public figure from the man.
Carlo Monilla
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read the Chinese version.
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This history is so great.
William Schram
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Subtle is the Lord is a biography of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais. It brilliantly tells the story of Einstein and his development into a world-renowned Physicist. While covering his life, the book also covers the work that Einstein did in Physics. Starting with his youth and childhood, Subtle is the Lord addresses the theories of Einstein being bad in school by presenting his report card. Although it is true that Einstein didn’t particularly like the authoritative atmosphere of his school, he ...more
Saurabh Jha
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book describes in detail the scientific accomplishments of Albert Einstein, the most important scientific figure of the twentieth century. Prof. Pais describes in detail how concepts were when Prof. Einstein started working on those problems, how he changed those concepts, and what new problems or areas of research were generated from them.

I am going to list some points which struck me when I read this book. Hopefully, one will not interpret them as giving out spoilers as this is not a work
A very in depth look at the history of Einstein's life work, with enough biography to provide context. This book is replete with the math and details of the theories of Einstein and his contemporaries. The problem is that unless you majored in physics or even studied at the graduate level, you aren't going to comprehend the details. Terms like Brownian motion, blackbody radiation, and covariance are not defined in the text. It is assumed that you have the background in physics to hang with the a ...more
Sharan Banagiri
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book, a one of a kind biography of Einstein. Pais was a physicist himself who personally knew both Einstein and Bohr, and made this unique biography of the science of Einstein. If you want to know more about the personal life of Einstein, look elsewhere for Pais only gives a faint sketch of it. On the other hand he delves into the science, the philosophy and the thinking of the man. Pais doesn't shy away from equations and leads he reader with the actual math Einstein and others wer ...more
Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Much of this book was way above my level of scientific/mathematical comprehension, but described in a manner through which I could understand the gist of Einstein's obsessions and moments of excitement. Occasional chapters in the book were purely biographical, and in them I was able to enjoy the details of his life without the clutter of formulæ. My knowledge of Einstein's history had been too vague, and I now feel much more informed about the man and the state of science in which he arose. This ...more
Daphnée Kwong Waye
Don't get me wrong: the book is interesting and rich. However, for someone who has barely touched science at school like me, at some point, I got lost. The language was clear and easy; the flow of reading was smooth but it was still too scientific for me. I believe this is what the author intended but sadly the book thus cannot reach out to the wide audience. However, I will probably refer to it and go back to it later. Maybe re-read it and then maybe my understanding of science and maths would ...more
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Without question, it's an outstanding biography, highly recommended to anyone related to physics.

To my personal taste, the structure of the book is a bit irritating: the author tries to follow the chronological order and at the same time to organize the story according to the scientific subjects on which Einstein was working during his life. Thus, if in the same period E. was working at several topics, the author treating separately each topic, has to describe several times the same personal ba
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Just starting. Looking for a nice easy book about Einstein to read? This ain't it. However, I think it is going to be worth the efforts.

Just finished. I won't pretend that I followed all the math, but I did gain an appreciation for the methods that were used both in mathmatics and seeking to derive the theories using both past advances and indeptedant thought. A very rewarding book and one that is extremely difficult to read. But very much worth the entire five stars.
Ashish Jaituni
Apr 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A very good biography on Einstein. For a long time and even today it is considered to be among the best biographies of Einstein. I read it a long long time ago in my early days as a student of Physics.
Federico Kereki
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
The historical parts are good, but the Math and Physics parts require serious advanced knowledge; if you are not into tensors, semivectors, Lagrangian, Hermitian, and other similar terms, those parts will be impregnable.
Nov 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Although being a very well written and informative biography, the book is mostly oriented to Physics lovers and enthusiasts as the author spends a great amount of time talking about physics and explaining the deductions, etc.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Given the genius of Einstein, I found this biography positively uninteresting and did not learn much about him or his works or thoughts that I already did not know.
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Very nice, very detailled, very informative. Also a bit tough.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much of the physics was beyond me, although I learned a lot in reading it.
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Abraham Pais was a physicist, specialising in particle physics, who became a well-known science historian later in life, having worked closely with prominent scientists such as Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein.

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